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Cheyenne Bodie roams the West in the days after the Civil War, having adventures and helping folks out. The tall laconic hero would eventually become television's quintessential loner but actually started out with a sidekick named Smitty (L.Q. Jones) who was a mapmaker. Cheyenne and Smitty do mapping work for the Army and in this occupation stumble across the people who make up each episode's story.
The current DVD set covers the 15 episodes from Season One and includes a recent interview with Clint Walker called "The Lonely Gunfighter: The Legacy of Cheyenne". The reason there are only 15 episodes is because "Cheyenne" was only broadcast every third week, being part of an anthology series called "Warner Brothers Presents" which also included "Casablanca" (with Marcel Dalio) and "King's Row" (with Robert Horton and Jack Kelly). In subsequent seasons the anthology would feature shows like "Conflict", "Sugarfoot", and "Bronco Lane".
Contrary to popular belief, the episodes on the 1st season DVD have not been abbreviated. Although they run less that the normal 50 minutes (60 minutes minus commercials) it is because the original broadcasts took some additional minutes for Warner Brothers to use in promoting their coming attractions; with a behind the scenes look at one of their soon to be released features.
Also unique to the first season was an attempt to add scale to the stories by inserting a lot of stock footage of cattle drives, Indian attacks, and huge wagon trains. In general they did a better job than most "B" westerns of matching this footage to the back lot and sound stage stuff featuring the actual cast of each episode. But this technique and the busy schedule was a nightmare for the editors. The first episode "Mountain Fortress" includes a particularly amusing continuity issue. Watch how the sergeant and the trooper are killed early in an Indian attack, then magically reappear in a subsequent group shot. Most likely the editors noticed the problem but there was not time to re-shoot the scene with the correct cast.
At least two episodes take actual movie plots and retell them in a Western setting. "Fury at Rio Hondo" is a retelling of "To Have and to Have Not" with Peggy Castle outstanding in the Lauren Bacall role. "The Argonaunts" is a retelling of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and features Rod Taylor.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
"Cheyenne" was the first TV-western produced by the studio,and it is the most fondly remembered of TV's "Golden Age Of Westerns",and it was the driving force behind this show that Warners produced four more Westerns after the success of "Cheyenne". This show was a huge hit for ABC-TV at the time mostly because of its star,Clint Walker as the title character. It also brought out other westerns as well that followed including James Garner as "Maverick" which premiered in 1957,and continued through 1962,producing 124 episodes. Then that same year Will Hutchins star as "Sugarfoot"(1957-1961),which produced 61 episodes,then afterwards in 1958 came Ty Hardin as "Bronco"(1958-1962), which produced 68 episodes,not to mention the action-adventure short-lived series titled "The Alaskans" with Roger Moore,which ran from 1959 through 1960,producing 37 episodes. There were other Westerns as well that Warners produced during the mid-1960's as well especially with the Western satire spoof "F-Troop" which premiered in 1965 producing 37 episodes which ran until 1967,and the last of Warner Brothers Westerns came that same year in 1965 with Christopher Jones in "The Legend of Jesse James",which lasted one season. It is to note here that out of all the Warner Brothers produced Westerns that had the longest-running stanza out of all of them,"Cheyenne" remained on ABC-TV for eight seasons,producing 108 episodes running from its debut in 1955 to the final episode of the series in 1963. Only "Maverick" became the second longest-running Western for the studio,which debut in 1957 and ended in 1962,withstood a five-year run.
What set "Cheyenne" apart from other TV-westerns of their day? First off,there were different sets of elements that were found of other shows but this one was totally the opposite and above the competition in which lay the foundation for the casting of Clint Walker as Cheyenne Brodie. Clint Walker's character was a good-looking fellow with a 48-inch chest(which seems to get bared at least once in every episode)who didn't succeed just on his acting ability,which was passable.The only thing that was successful was the action scenes in which Cheyenne would be fighting ruthless outlaws,savage Indians,and even deadly gunslingers who may have there way with him,but Cheyenne didn't back down from any fight,and because of his massive size,he could tackle any man while still have the aura of a "gentle giant". Even with the "beefcake" scenes had an non-threatening quality about them since television and what was to be shown on television had to go through the censors was about as riveting as they could get,but lets face it,"Cheyenne" delivered the goods and then some with more Westerb action and adventure then it could handle thanks to the starring presence of Clint Walker especially with the unique qualities that he brought to this series.
"Cheyenne" also brought out some of the most special guest stars ever assembled and some of them,like per se James Garner,would go on to make a name for himself years later on his own WB-produced series, "Maverick". And not to mention others like Micheal Landon,Peter Graves, and others that were on the adventure set each week. In all a great series from TV's Golden Age.
Happy Golden 50th Anniversary CHEYENNE
The Season I DVD compilation includes all fifteen episodes of the series' first season 1955/56. Series guest star James Garner appeared in three of them, as many as L.Q. Jones, who portrayed Cheyenne's map making sidekick Smitty in three of the first four shows. Garner's character was different each time out. Other notable guests in the first season included Myron Healey, Dennis Hopper, Barton MacLane, and even a young Michael Landon in an uncredited appearance.
One of the interesting things about that first season is that two of the episodes were direct lifts of movies starring Humphrey Bogart. 'The Argonauts' (#1.3) swipes scenes and dialog from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" in a similar story of greedy gold prospectors, but at least credits B. Traven as the author of the novel on which both were based. However 'Fury at Rio Hondo' (#1.12) credits James Gunn with writing that story, but nowhere mentions Ernest Hemingway as the author of "To Have And Have Not". Once again, the story's plot and characters parallel the Bogart film; the Lauren Bacall role is handled by Peggie Castle, but she doesn't quite cut it as the sexy nineteen year old Bacall did in the original movie. For his part, Bodie was no Bogey.
On that score, Clint Walker was competent as the laconic drifter Cheyenne Bodie, but like George Reeves in "The Adventures of Superman" TV series, he didn't have a lot to work with, and didn't rise much above the material, unless you consider his six and a half foot stature. Don't get me wrong, I like both Walker and "Cheyenne" and enjoy the shows, but if you consider the acting, the best you can say is that it was uneven. And the episodes, some were almost comical trying to be serious. Consider Episode #1.11, 'Quicksand', in which Cheyenne challenges a Comanche Chief in a battle to the death in a bed of muck. They start out standing upright, and slowly start to sink inch by inch until each proves the point that they would rather die than be proved a coward. Then, when the Comanche chief mounts his horse to ride away, he's no longer covered by mud!
As big as Walker was, it's interesting to see him cast opposite actors who came close to him in size; Don Megowan comes to mind from Episode #1.13 - 'Star in the Dust', as a sheriff who hires Cheyenne on as a deputy. That's one example, but it happened with some regularity. Kind of makes you wonder where all those big bad guys came from in the Old West.
The Season I DVD set contains a nice 'Legacy of Cheyenne' feature in which the seventy nine year old Walker talks about his early life and 'discovery' by Van Johnson, who put him in touch with an agent. That contact eventually led to a role as a Sardinian Captain of the Guard in "The Ten Commandments". Warner Brothers took an interest based on that role, and bought his contract from producer Hal Wallis with the Cheyenne role in mind. Originally, the show aired as part of an anthology series on the ABC network; other posters on this board have done a nice job of outlining that history.
My favorite show of the series - Episode #7.1, debuting the 1962 season, titled "The Durango Brothers". Mama Hortense Durango (Ellen Corby) enlists her three renegade sons (Jack Elam, Charlie Briggs, and Mickey Simpson) to kidnap Cheyenne in order to marry him off to sister Lottie (Sally Kellerman!!!) - it's hilarious! Needless to say, Cheyenne finishes the show, the season and the series still single.
"Cheyenne" began a great Western tradition at ABC, to be followed not only by that network, but CBS and NBC as well. Not many though, could ride as tall in the saddle as the original, and Clint Walker can rest easy knowing that there aren't many TV heroes that are admired as much as Cheyenne Bodie.
*Addendum - posted 12/13/09 - From Episode #64, Season 4 - "Gold, Glory and Custer, Requiem" - Cheyenne Bodie's Indian name from the Southern Cheyenne is revealed to be 'Touch the Sky'. Seems more than appropriate.
While Clint was a good-looking fellow with a 48-inch chest, (which seemed to get bared at least once on every episode), he didn't succeed just on his physical appearance or on his acting ability which, while passable, didn't qualify for any awards. No, what probably made Clint such an enduring icon of the 1950's was his surprisingly quiet, mild-mannered personality which at first seemed at odds with his massive size. This personality gave Clint an approachable, almost vulnerable quality which lent him the aura of a "gentle giant."
Even his "beefcake" scenes had a wholesome, non-threatening quality about them as opposed to, say, the sly sexuality of Robert Conrad's frequent bare-chest poses in "The Wild Wild West."
Perhaps the episode best reflecting Clint's unique qualities aired on 12-18-56. Titled "The Trap," this episode had Clint unjustly sentenced to work in a silver mine. Having Clint push those loaded mine-cars out of the mine and along a track under a blistering-hot desert sun not only gave ample opportunities to display that hairy chest gleaming with sweat, but the atmosphere of cruelty and bondage effectively played on the notion that audiences like to see the masochistic sufferings of an uncomplaining strongman.
What this show had going for it was Clint Walker, who may well have been the most astonishing looking human being ever to appear in front of a camera. I have seen very few professional athletes who were bigger and stronger, but none who were as handsome. Walker, whom I've seen in other movies, was also at least competent as an actor, even though he was hired on the basis of his striking good looks. He was at least as good as the young Clint Eastwood, and far superior to the truly appalling Arnold Schwarzenegger.
An interesting fact about Walker is that he once fell on an upturned ski pole, whose point pierced his heart. He pulled the pole from his chest and walked down the ski hill. He survived and is still alive in 2006. You couldn't invent somebody like this in a movie and have people believe it.
All rugged brawn and chiseled good looks, the 29 year-old Walker certainly cut a mighty impressive image playing the title character in this superbly produced Wild West cowboy show from yesteryear.
From 1955 to 1962 the ultra-masculine Walker starred in this phenomenally popular western program that (on a weekly basis) aired its 50-minute, action-packed episodes through the courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios.
A loner, a drifter, and a jack-of-all-trades, Cheyenne Bodie was not a man of many words, but he was known to be fair-minded and just - And, as an added bonus, this husky dude was certainly quite capable of settling scores with his fists as well as with a gun.
Always towering over everyone else in the cast, Clint Walker easily ranks right up there as one of my favorite TV cowboys of all time.
To a total cowboy-junkie, like myself, Clint Walker, as Cheyenne Bodie, was "the right stuff" - A man that Western legends are made of.
CLINT, I've read your bios, heard some of your interviews, including the amazing story of your skiing accident that nearly took your life. I'm no kid anymore,will be 63 next month, & I know you are in your late 80's. I also remember that you don't travel by air much anymore since planes are so cramped for a big man like you. BUT, I would fly out there to get the chance to meet you in person, get a hug & share a short visit! You will always be the cowboy with a heart, a solid moral compass & a man who treated a lady the way a lady wants to be treated. It must be noted that God must have been showing off when He made you, but while your strong, handsome exterior caught the eye, it was the man that you exhibited that caught our hearts. I don't think any of us who were so captivated then have lost one ounce of our affection for you!
I recall vividly my frequent Saturday bicycle rides with my brother or neighborhood friends to the Swan Theater in Columbus, NE. Those kids' matinees cost just nine cents, and that left a penny out of our dime for a bag of popcorn.
Most of the matinée movies we saw weren't new. They were films from the past decade or more that we probably hadn't seen. When a new Western movie came out we might get to see it at an evening showing at the bigger Columbus Theater. Of course, the price there was 20 cents and popcorn cost a nickel. But we kids were happy with the matinees following the adventures of Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, the Cisco Kid, Lash Larue and the Lone Ranger.
With the rapid rise of TV at the start of the 1950s, the movie houses began to see a steady decline in audience numbers. And, those daytime Western entertainers of the past were getting into the new medium as well. The Gene Autry show aired from 1950 to 1955, and the Roy Rogers show ran from 1951 to 1957. Hopalong Cassidy had a TV series from 1952-54, and the Cisco Kid was a favorite TV series from 1950-56 starring Duncan Renaldo. The Lone Ranger, who was played by different actors in movies, as was The Cisco Kid, had a long-running TV series from 1949-57, with a 30-minute weekly show that starred Clayton Moore. It ran for 221 episodes. Moore also starred in the 1956 feature length film, "The Lone Ranger."
With Westerns so firmly established among the viewing public, it's no wonder that new Western series would become very popular on TV. But, the new series and heroes took on a little more mature look. Now they appealed as much to adults as to kids. Indeed, many of the latter were now the adults themselves.
"Cheyenne" was one of the favorites among the many long-running Western TV serials. It ran from 1955 to 1962 and starred Clint Walker. It was second in popularity only to "Gunsmoke," which became the longest running live action TV series in history, airing from 1955 to 1975. And, the enduring popularity of Westerns would continue in the movies and on TV through the 1970s. "Maverick" aired from 1957 to 1962, "Have Gun – Will Travel" ran from 1957 to 1963, and "Wagon Train" ran from 1957 to 1965. Even before these faded out, other series were born. "The Rifleman" aired from 1958 to 1963,"Rawhide" ran from 1959 to 1965 and "Bonanza" ran from 1959 to 1973.
More Western series' were born as some of the earlier ones faded. "The Wild Wild West" and "The Big Valley" both ran from 1965-69, and "How the West Was Won," aired from 1976 to 1979.
Those were times and a type of wholesome entertainment that the whole family could enjoy. Few of today's theater offerings or TV programs fit that category. And, today's $5 and $10 theater popcorn is a far cry from the five or 10 cents one paid in 1950 — even adjusted for inflation. Top movie stars in the 1940s might make $100,000 for a single movie. Today they get $5 to $10 million or more. Inflation in the movie industry appears to be about 500 to 1,000 percent greater than for the American economy overall. That may be one reason why so many more people stay home and watch TV instead of going to the movies.
Walker was in fact more suggestive of Gary Cooper than Wayne. If he had been born 20 years earlier he would have been a great B picture cowboy hero. In fact it was Warner Brothers who realized that the B western did not die, but moved to television. Cheyenne was the first of a dozen or so westerns that Warner Brothers did for television. The most successful of which was Maverick because it's star James Garner had the biggest career undoubtedly.
When Cheyenne ended its run Walker found that westerns on the big screen were in eclipse. Possibly he should have looked for another television series. His best known big screen movie role was one of The Dirty Dozen.
Too bad Cheyenne was not done in color. It would get a lot of run on the TV nostalgia channels. As for Walker his Cheyenne Bodie was a jack of all western trades and did them all in Cheyenne's run.
Clint Walker was a model cowboy hero and deserves to be remembered as such.
THE MAIN CHARACTER, as portrayed by star, Clint Walker, was a sort of mysterious in origin; but was definitely a sort of benevolent drifter. His drifting all around the West, changing jobs and interacting with various townsfolk guaranteed that there would be a broad spectrum of story lines with which to nourish and nurture the series. As we recall, it never seemed to be monotonous or boring; as a healthy balance was struck between Gunplay, Horseplay and Screenplay.
ALTHOUGH GOOD WRITING, characterization and generous helping of the well established Horse Opera tradition greatly contributed to the series' successful run, one other puzzle part also played a lion's share in rounding up the great audience that it did have.
THAT OTHER ELEMENT was Mr. Clint Walker, himself.
AS A RELATIVE NEWCOMER, he had to have learned much of his skills as an actor as a sort of "on the job trainee." His height (6'6"), powerful & athletic physique, natural good looks and richly tonal voice all were definite advantages in his early career; but he cultivated the persona of "the strong & silent type." This type of leading man had served others well; with the names of John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott being prime examples.
INSTEAD OF DISPLAYING excessive physical and vocal energy, the production team and Clint went for underplaying of the role. That too greatly contributed to the longevity it had on the TV schedule.
BITTER DISPUTES OVER contractual matters caused there to be an unexpected hiatus for the tall horseman as both Management and Labor, in the persons of Warner Brothers Pictures and star Clint Walker argued over some restrictive clauses in the stars contract. In it, he was verboten to accept any other roles and would not be used by the studio outside of the Cheyenne part he originated.
WHILE THIS PAPER war was raging, Jack Warner & cohorts managed to keep this hour long slot in their possession. The "CHREYENNE" hour was supplanted by the alternate presentation of the Western, BRONCO (with Ty Hardin) and Western Comedy SUGARFOOT (with Will Hutchins).
AFTER PEACE BETWEEN Walker and the Warners had been declared, the reinstatement of a now movie star Clint Walker and CHEYENNE came to pass. But the peace treaty did have certain provisions that altered the schedule radically. After that conflict was concluded, there was established a three way "Starting Rotation" with episodes of CHEYRENNE, BRONCO and SUGARFOOT being presented on successive weeks.
NO ONE SEEMED to care about this troika of an arrangement; not Clint Walker, not Warner Brothers, not us either, right Schultz?
"Cheyenne" was a Western, and one of the TV series in which the format was to show the stories of major films like TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE, and numerous Randolph Scott films.
Classic films would not appear on TV more than once every three years, sometimes once every ten years. Some, like A Christmas CAROL and THE WIZARD OF OZ, made a yearly appearance.
The writers must have felt very repressed, if they had any talent at all, because the episodes were pretty much clones of the films. Any changes made were due to budget. They probably didn't have a Mexican bandit in the Madre episode because they didn't have a sombrero. I wouldn't doubt it.
All in all, it was a very predictable show, but at least it wasn't annoying. It had a good heart, which makes it better.